Throughout my childhood, I spent the majority of my evenings in the kitchen, standing right next to my dad, learning how to cook. As the head chef of my house, my dad turns simple ingredients into elaborate meals almost every single night, and watching him do this at the end of each day is what made me fall in love with cooking.

Over the years, I have picked up on a few of the most important kitchen tricks that make him the best home cook I know. He learned most of them from experience, and a few from food network experts like Alton Brown. If you start with these tips, you are well on your way to becoming the home cooking master chef of your own kitchen, like my dad has become.

1. A sharp knife is a safe knife

herb, vegetable
Allan Mai

My dad learned this one the hard way so that I didn't have to. Even if I am cutting a sandwich, he is quick to stop me, take away the butter knife I am using, and replace it with a sharp serrated knife. He has taught me (and sometimes shown me) that a dull knife is much more likely to slip from your hand and cut you than than a steady and sharpened knife.

Whether you are cutting into a raw squash or simply cutting up a piece of fruit, a sharp knife will make your life so much easier. Don't fear the knife. Respect it.

2. Never follow the recipe exactly.

Hannah Cather

Especially when it comes to spices and garnishes, there is no need to get out the measuring spoons. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen my dad use measuring spoons. He sees recipes as general guidelines rather than strict instructions, and always stresses to me the importance of tasting as you go.

This makes his dishes personal and unique, and improves his skill and natural intuition in the kitchen. Allow yourself to take your own spin on a dish, throwing in an extra type of vegetable or replacing one herb with another. Experiment with ingredients that  you think make sense together. It is much more rewarding to create something inspired by a recipe rather than identical to it.

3. Don't be scared of salt.

macaroni, pasta, spaghetti
Alex Frank

Being a bit of a health nut, this one was hard for me to learn. For a long time, I thought salt meant sodium which meant unhealthy. My dad started to sneak in a few extra pinches when I wasn't looking, always trying to explain to me the importance of salt when I caught him.

What I learned after comparing a the taste of a dish that I cooked to the flavor he always achieved, I came to terms with the fact that that salt can truly make or break a dish.  Often, what looks like a lot of salt going into a giant pot of soup is not nearly as much as you might think. Simply cooking at home, rather than eating out, reduces your sodium intake. So, don't sacrifice the flavor of your dish by being stingy with the salt.

4. Get all the chopping out of the way first.

Parisa Soraya

There is truly nothing worse than getting halfway through your recipe only to realize the onions you need to throw in right now still need to be finely chopped. My dad always chops up the veggies long before he turns on any stove top or oven.

I sometimes questioned his early start to dinner, but after experiencing first hand the frustration and chaos of speed-chopping, I began to appreciate his leisurely and well-thought-out approach. Cooking in a kitchen full of prepped ingredients is simple, laid-back, and much more enjoyable.

5. Clean as you go.

beer, cake, pizza, tea, coffee
Jayna Goldstein

My dad uses a lot of cutting boards, pans, towels, pots, and bowls when he cooks, but always manages to finish his cooking with a pretty clean kitchen. Only the serving platters of food and a few last minute dishes remain when dinner is served.  This not only makes post-dinner clean up easier, but also makes the cooking itself relaxed and stress-free.

If you have ever watched an episode of Chopped, you know that a messy kitchen is a hectic kitchen, and makes mistakes a whole lot more likely. Plus, no one wants to do the dishes after eating a hefty meal.

6. Leave the veggies in the oven longer than you think.

potato, french fries
Claire Couron

There is not much that frustrates my dad more than undercooked potatoes. Patience is key in his kitchen, and that did not sit well with me as a child. I would always tell my dad the veggies were ready, and he would always reply, "maybe 15 more minutes." This was an aggravating thing to hear as a hungry 10 year old, but once I was old enough to realize that my dad's roasted veggies were simply the best, I learned that the wait is definitely worth it. 

Toss your broccoli, asparagus, or potatoes in olive oil, season them well (Don't forget the salt!), and stick them in the oven. Once they seem cooked, turn the oven to broil and leave them in there for just a little longer than usual for a super tender center and crisp edge that even veggie skeptics can't resist. 

7. Cooking doesn't have to be a chore.

I was often confused by the way others dreaded the "chore" of cooking. My dad always seemed to love it, sometimes voluntarily spending half his day working on a meal. So how can people see cooking a meal the same way they see cleaning the house or doing the laundry?

What I realized was that my dad sees cooking as a passion and a hobby, rather than a burden. He carefully plans meals that interest him, and tries new techniques and cuisines whenever he gets the chance. He rarely makes the same recipe twice, and stays up to date on the latest food trends, making family meals surprising and fun. Whether it means spontaneously buying exotic ingredients to try, spending hours on recipe sites to find the perfect dish, or inviting friends to cook with you, make cooking an exciting and rewarding part of your day.

Parisa Soraya

I can rarely keep my dad out of the kitchen long enough to cook something entirely by myself, but when I do, I cook with all the techniques I have learned from him. Cooking, eating dinner together, and exchanging recipe ideas has become a very important mode of communication in my family, and my dad's techniques and kitchen tricks has turned all of us into passionate and knowledgable cooks.

Set aside time to cook, find ways to enjoy it, and never let cooking become the thing that you dread at the end of the day. With my dad's tips and an adventurous attitude, you are well on your way to becoming another expert home cook that gets excited about the responsibility of deciding what's for dinner.